As Paris readies for the COP21 International Climate talks, more than 50 building and real estate companies, including Thornton Tomasetti, Skanska and JLL, announced today that they have signed on to the Building and Real Estate Climate Declaration, a business call to action that urges policymakers to seize the economic opportunity of tackling climate change. The declaration was recognized before thousands of industry leaders and experts at the closing plenary of the annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo taking place in Washington, D.C. this week.
The Building and Real Estate Climate Declaration is a collaborative effort among the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Carbon Leadership Forum and Ceres. It is a companion to Ceres’ Climate Declaration, launched in 2013, which has more than 1,660 signatories nationwide, including iconic brands such as Gap Inc., General Mills,, Disney, Apple, and Starbucks. The building and real estate sector firms have signed their own Building and Real Estate Climate Declaration, to call attention to the specific risks and opportunities associated with climate change on the built sector industry, which is a major economic driver in the United States and produces 39 percent of carbon emissions annually.
“The Building and Real Estate Declaration is the first collective statement of the building community on climate, and it signals we are ready to get to work, both sustainably and profitably,” said Roger Platt, president, USGBC. “Our community knows that buildings represent the lowest cost and greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions. The Climate Declaration will give visibility to buildings as a critical climate solution. We’ve proven that by acting sustainably, we can leverage innovation and efficiency to driven economic growth.”
“These building and real estate companies recognize the financial upside of tackling climate change today, both for their own bottom lines and the overall economy," said Anne Kelly, director of policy and BICEP at Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization. “They recognize that strong policies are essential for tackling climate change at the scale and pace that’s needed. We urge negotiators at COP21 to follow their lead.”
The building and real estate industry faces multiple climate change impacts. Extreme weather, sea level rise, coastal erosion, floods, and wildfires are contributing to rising insurance rates and premiums in sought-after coastal real estate. Hundreds of billions of dollars of property are at risk of inundation from sea level rise and storm surge alone. In the construction sector, extreme heat can lead to lower labor productivity, curtailed hours and extended construction schedules.
The cost of property damage from extreme weather events in the United States topped $19 billion across 35 states in 2014.
Built sector leaders are turning those risks into opportunities.
“For us, signing the Building & Real Estate Sector Climate Declaration was common sense,” said Gunnar Hubbard, principal and sustainability practice leader at Thornton Tomasetti. “As an innovative business, we stand to gain financially from good policies that recognize the reality of climate change and, because we believe reducing greenhouse gases is the responsible thing to do, our firm continues to do its part to reduce emissions through our core business practices and services.”
Thornton Tomasetti has goals to implement climate neutral business operations and buildings by 2030. Measuring the embodied carbon of its structural engineering projects and reporting to the American Institute of Architects 2030 Commitment since 2012, Thornton Tomasetti has numerous initiatives towards achieving their goal, including LEED Gold+ certification of all new offices and major office renovations over 4,000 square feet.
Similarly, since 2007 JLL has documented $2.5 billion in cumulative energy savings for their clients, through energy efficiency, sustainable construction practices, and participation in the ENERGY STAR and U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED programs. In 2013 alone, the firm saved clients $681 million in energy costs. Read more about JLL’s sustainability efforts here.
“Signing the climate declaration is a no-brainer for us. With advances in technology and the heightened awareness leading up to COP21, we have a real opportunity right now to make changes; we must be ready to take advantage of them,” said Dan Probst, chairman of energy and sustainability services at JLL. “Whether it’s joining the growing interest in renewable energy sources, retrofitting existing buildings to reduce their environmental footprint or simply reducing waste, there is something everyone can do to make a difference.”
The construction giant Skanska has goals to replace fossil energy with renewable energy, and has conducted 113 “project carbon footprints” to reduce greenhouse emissions in 2014, an increase of 40 percent since 2013. Skanska is also committed to long-term objectives such as generating zero waste through reducing upfront demand, reusing materials, and implementing environmentally sound treatments.
“In addition to the ability we have to make the construction process more environmentally sound, we can go even further with our commitment,” said Elizabeth Heider, chief sustainability officer at Skanska USA. “By setting a high bar for the sustainability of the things we develop and by working with customers at early phases of project planning, we can help ensure that, no matter what is being built, it is being built green.”
“The Building & Real Estate Sector Climate Declaration provides a venue for our industry to act together, sharing both concern and optimism. We recognize the challenges of climate change and know that changes to building practices can have a significant impact,” said Kate Simonen, director of the Carbon Leadership Forum. “We helped launch the Declaration to communicate opportunity and best practices to policymakers and industry partners.”
The building and real estate industry is a major economic driver in the United States, accounting for 39% of CO2 emissions per year, with real estate construction alone contributing $1 trillion towards the nation’s economic output in 2014. As of early 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor estimated that 6.34 million Americans were employed in the construction industry. The agency also estimated that in early 2014, 1.5 million Americans were employed in the real estate industry. Green building is a significant segment of the industry, and its growth is outpacing conventional construction and will account for more than a third of all construction in the United States by 2018 according to a USGBC 2015 Economic Impact Study conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton.
Other building and real estate companies are invited to join the effort at: www.climatedeclaration.us/build
The 53 real estate and building sector signatories include architecture and engineering firms, construction companies of all sizes, and building product manufacturers, and are headquartered all across the United States, from New York City to California. Click here to see the full list of Building and Real Estate agencies signing the Climate Declaration.